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Ford to bring fast, fun fuel sippers to U.S.

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Ford to bring fast, fun fuel sippers to U.S.



Get ready for a broad array of fast, fun and fuel-efficient Fords.

The automaker's new Global Performance Vehicles department brings together Ford's finest go-fast thinking from Europe and the U.S.

It may lead to a line of sporty vehicles stretching from today's F-150 pickup and Mustang to the upcoming Focus compact and Fiesta subcompact.

The move could help Ford reach a new group of buyers: Young enthusiasts drawn to Asian models like the Honda Civic Si, Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Hyundai Tiburon.

"If you can capture enthusiastic young drivers, they become loyal buyers for years to come," said Mitch McCullough, editor of New Car Test Drive and a longtime contributor to Sport Compact Car, a magazine that was devoted to affordable performance cars from 1988-2009.

"The young performance driver is frequently the neighborhood expert," McCullough said. "Friends ask their advice before buying a car. If a company builds a quality, reliable, affordable, performance car, good word of mouth can affect sales of their other models."

Enthusiasts have criticized Ford for marginalizing its American SVT performance engineering group, which offers just one or two vehicles at a time. The new organization should change that as sporty small vehicles join SVT's traditional models.

"American customers will get access to vehicles they couldn't have in the past," said Hermann Salenbauch, Ford director of advanced product creation and global performance vehicles. "We can offer exciting performance to more customers in more segments."

The first may be a performance version of the new Focus.

Ford won't reveal details of the car, but a look at the 305-horsepower Focus RS currently sold in Europe may provide a hint of what's coming. Powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, the RS accelerates from 0 to 62 m.p.h. (100 km/h) in 5.9 seconds. European fuel-economy tests rate it at 34 m.p.g. on the highway. Ford developed a suspension that reportedly gives the RS unprecedented handling for a powerful little front-wheel drive car.

Ford's European performance team also produced the 225-horsepower Focus ST, which hits 62 m.p.h. in 6.8 seconds with a normally aspirated version of the RS engine.

The global performance team -- called RS in Europe, SVT in America -- works on engines, transmissions, steering, suspensions and brakes. It doesn't waste its time on cosmetic changes that make a vehicle look sporty without improving performance.

Ford won't say when the performance Focus is to arrive, but it will use EcoBoost, the combination of turbocharging and direct fuel injection Ford uses to improve power and fuel economy. The new Focus is to go on sale in America and Europe early next year.

U.S. and European versions of Ford's global performance cars will be nearly identical, said Jost Capito, Ford director of global performance vehicles and motorsport business. "We don't want to soften the European vehicle for America. We're planning to launch performance models at nearly the same time in the U.S. and Europe."

In the past, Ford built performance versions of its Fiesta small car in Europe. The base model of the Fiesta is to go on sale in America this spring. There's no word yet on whether an RS, ST or SVT-badged performance model is in the works.

While Ford is alone in creating a single global performance group, General Motors may also take advantage of its overseas engineering to add power and pizzazz to its lineup.

The Buick Regal GS concept car revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is nearly identical mechanically to a car from GM's Opel Performance Center in Europe.

GM develops performance versions of its small cars in Europe and Asia. They could make it to Chevrolet and Buick's model lines if GM joins Ford in leveraging its global performance engineering abilities.



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